Illinois Gov. Rauner launches air war his budget showdown with the Legislature

Posted by on Jun 17, 2015 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

The television ad begins with slow, ominous music and black-and-white urban imagery. A woman’s voiceover says, urgently: “Illinois is at a crossroads.”

A shadowy image of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appears, as the narrator intones: “Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change . . . ”

A political attack ad against Madigan? Yes. But with an unusual twist: There’s no election in sight.

The ad, which began airing in Illinois on Tuesday, is the latest weapon in Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s well-funded arsenal against Madigan and the other Democrats who control the Legislature, as the two sides play a game of chicken over the state budget.

The Democrats want a tax hike to address a massive budget deficit. Rauner wants them to agree to sweeping pro-business policy changes first. Both sides are dug in, and facing the possibility of a state government shutdown if they can’t reach an agreement by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

In a move that is, if not completely unprecedented, at least unusual, Rauner has taken the fight outside the back rooms of the state Capitol to the living rooms of Illinoisans, pleading his case to them via the campaign-commercial-like attack that started this week.

“They’re saying `no’ to spending discipline, `no’ to job-creating economic reforms, ‘no’ to term limits,” the commercial’s narrator says of Madigan and his supporters. “All they want is higher taxes. Again.”

Campaign-commercial connoisseurs know what happens next: The music and the lighting both brighten, Rauner appears on the screen, and his own reassuring voice replaces the somber narrator: “Change in Springfield isn’t easy. But you didn’t send me here to do what’s easy. With your help, I’m going to keep fighting . . . ”

Rauner is a wealthy businessman and novice politician who won the governor’s office last November using millions of dollars of his own money. The commercial that aired Tuesday was paid for by a PAC that Rauner set up with the help of a fellow wealthy businessman (Sam Zell, former CEO of the Tribune Company).

It comes on the heels of another unusual move, last month, when Rauner’s personal campaign fund passed out contributions to every Republican in the Legislature, some $400,000 in all. Again, there was no election in sight — just the final weeks of a contentious spring legislative session in which Rauner needed his party to stick together. 

Some commentators in Illinois are saying it’s a fundamentally new approach to governing, one that only a cash-flush governor could pull off: effectively continuing in campaign mode well after the election is over, using his own private funds to try to influence public policy.

Whether that approach moves the needle in this month’s budget impasse, or just makes it more bitter, remains to be seen. (Kevin McDermott)

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—This report was compiled by Post-Dispatch political reporter Kevin McDermott.

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